Thursday, December 22, 2011

Solar Powered

I finally got my solar electric panels inspected and turned on. It's taken several months to get everything ordered and installed and approved. The solar thermal (hot water) was a much quicker, easier process to get installed and turned on. It still had to be inspected, but that was after it was already turned on. (The solar thermal panels are the two on the right, white because of frost.)

Of course, this is the worst time of the year for a solar system - the days are short and the sun is low. And the cold temperatures slow down the solar hot water. On the positive side, I'll now be able to watch the output increase as the days get longer and the sun higher.

Amazingly, the solar hot water system did come on the other day, partly because it was an unusually warm day (for winter), and partly because the temperature of the water in the holding tank is low, so the panels don't have to be as hot to get the required 10c temperature difference.

Frustratingly, we haven't had a full day of sun since the solar electric system was turned on. It's a 5kW (kilowatt) system (20 x 250W panels) but the highest output I've seen so far is 1.6kW and my best total day was only 3.2kWh (kilowatt hours). I'm not sure what my maximum output will actually be since the slope and direction of the roof is not ideal and I do get some shading from trees. (Some trimming might be in order.)

In case you're wondering - the economic story for solar panels is not great (yet). They are expensive and our electricity and gas are cheap. At current rates it'll take a long time for the system to pay for itself. Of course, the reason electricity and gas are cheap is because we're not accounting for the true costs, like climate change and environmental damage. And we're not taking into account the fact that we're using up a finite resource that will eventually run out.

There's also the question of embodied energy. Although the solar panels are generating (capturing) energy, they also took a lot of energy to create - mining the materials, manufacturing, transportation, etc. This embodied energy unfortunately negates much of the benefits.

So if it doesn't pay, and they take almost as much energy to manufacture as they produce, why do it? I guess for me it came down to wanting to lead and to be an example. If enough people install solar systems, the costs will come down, and the manufacturing will get more energy efficient. If no one installs them because they're not good enough yet, then there's little incentive to improve them. They also serve to make people think about energy and alternatives. We've already had a lot of interest from neighbors and friends.

Check out the live monitoring from the solar electric system

See also: EcoFriendlySaskSolar Energy for Your Home

1 comment:

  1. The live monitoring is cool! You are the equivalent of two trees! Awesome :o) It would definitely be nice to see the cost come down a bit.